There is no need to stress what is all too well-known: The dalits have a major problem on hand and they need help. Their oppressors are, significantly enough, not so?called ?upper caste? Hindus but OBCs, particularly in rural areas where casteism holds a more aggressive sway.
What happened in Khairlanji village in Maharashtra not far from Nagpur is unbelievable if not insane. The manner in which a family of four, Dalits were butchered calls for the most stringent action against the villagers who took part in the savagery. Indeed, the entire village must be made to pay; to look out for a few culprits is just being na?ve. It is not just a few who are to be taken to task. It is the entire system that is at fault. The court can punish a few, but that takes one nowhere.
The country needs a new leadership such as one provided by Swami Vivekananda. Unfortunately there is none of that kind. What is even worse is that casteism, instead of being fought is being politicised. It is this lack of leadership that led recently to widespread violence in Maharashtra. The anger of the Dalits was further fuelled by the desecration of a statue of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar in Kanpur. It led to the torching of five compartments of the prestigious Mumbai-Pune Deccan Queen, the setting on fire of four coaches of a Mumbai-Karjat point-to-point local train, the damaging of over 100 buses and angry riots in many parts of Maharashtra?and Maharashtra alone. Dalits elsewhere in the country took the desecration of Dr Ambedkar'sstatue in their stride.
If the truth has to be told, Dr Ambedkar'sinfluence as a weaker sections leader has largely been confined to the Mahar community in Maharashtra. Dalits else-where have largely been leaderless. It must be remembered that not so long ago, in a Thevar-dominated village in Tamil Nadu, a duly elected Dalit women was sold in a public ?auction? and the media hardly noticed it. What has long been evident is the absence of leadership among both upper class Hindus and the Dalits.
We have any number of ?political? leaders. What we badly need is a reformist leader of eminence and social courage. We don't need Mayavatis or even Jagjivan Rams. We need the kind of social leaders like the ones Maharashtra once provided like Jyotiba Phule, to work not in urban centers but in rural India, to help restore the self-respect of several beleaguered communities that form the Scheduled Castes.
Treating Dalits as vote banks is the worst thing that one can do to them. This is not something that can be done overnight. The hold of casteism among Hindus is powerful and one has only to read the matrimonial columns in our leading national papers to realise how deep and widespread it is. The lists are laughable except that the laughter is against ourselves. There is no need to be pessimistic about it. Casteism by itself poses no danger to anybody. The problem arises only when a lower caste is denied its right to make economic progress, to get jobs commensurate with their educational qualifications, indeed to get opportunities for their children to get sound education and preserve their self-respect. Providing reservations to Dalit children in schools and colleges and enlarging their employment prospects is certainly a step in the right direction, but that doesn'ttake the Dalits?or the Scheduled Castes and Tribes?very far.
We need leadership of an entirely different kind and it is in this sphere that India has totally failed in the last half a century. The trouble is that ?leadership? cannot be manufactured in the IITs and IIMs. That has to come from within; it is a matter of the heart, not of the mind. The solution lies in multiple approaches to be undertaken by social organisations as well as by political parties, not for reaping political advantages but for taking the whole country a hundred steps ahead. It calls not just for spreading education of the Dalits on a massive scale and for setting up industries in rural areas but for a change in the mind-set of people which is the hardest task of all.
One has to live in rural surroundings to understand the great divide between the upper castes, the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes. The slaughter in Khairlanji is a symptom of a larger disease. What needs to be cured is the disease, not the symptom. The disease can'tbe cured by setting up statues or busts of Dr Ambedkar in every town and village, as Mayavati has tried to do.
In the first place Dr Ambedkar was never in favour of the personality cult or hero worship. He would have been the first to refuse to be iconised. As he said in one of his utterances in the Constituent Assembly, ?Bhakti in religion may be a road to salvation of the soul, but in politics bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.? How right he is. The desecration of Dr Ambedkar'sstatue in Kanpur was reprehensible but its setting up was attracting needless attention. It is a daring way of asserting Dalit self-respect but considering that it was public money and not funds raised by private Dalit financiers that was spent in setting up such statues, attention towards them, some hostile, was needlessly invited.
Reports suggest that at least in Uttar Pradesh there are more public statues of Dr Ambedkar than of Mahatma Gandhi or any other national leader which is no big deal but then one has to deal with reactionary forces in most unexpected ways and places. And there'sthe rub. What needs to be taken note of is the existence of a particular mind-set that is hostile to Dalits. This fact has to be squarely faced and equally determinedly resolved. This is primarily the responsibility of the government but even the government needs public support which should not be grudged but given freely. In some ways technology and industrial development have helped the Dalits to come out of their shells, but the process must be quickened in the larger interests of all people and not of Dalits alone. Any offensive against the Dalits is an offensive against India that is Bharat. By enriching Dalits we are only enriching ourselves. We are not doing any favour to the downtrodden in helping them rise to greater stature. What we would gain is to strengthen India in its march towards super-powerhood. And isn'tthat worth our efforts?